Better education and oversight needed to improve compliance with personal interest declaration rules

Local Government Inspectorate review finds only half of Victorian councillors complied with laws requiring them to disclose their personal interests.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021 at 4:00 am

The Local Government Inspectorate’s comprehensive review into personal interest returns of 650 councillors found 332 did not complete their returns in compliance with the Local Government Act.

The project – looking at 4,600 councillor returns between October 2016 and February 2020 – involved a high-level review of councillor personal interest returns from 61 councils and a detailed review of councillors from 17 councils.

Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said:

“We embarked on the review because the Inspectorate and other integrity agencies have identified incomplete and inadequate personal interest disclosures are a historical and ongoing issue affecting the local government sector.”

We found:

  • half of the 650 councillors had failed to submit accurate records of their personal interests
  • two out of every five councillors failed to disclose interests in one or more of their returns – or failed to submit a return at all
  • councillors failed to disclose interests in trusts, property and office positions held
  • councillors routinely declared interests inconsistently.

During the review, we surveyed selected councillors and council officers and were told that improved guidance was needed, in simple language, and including relevant examples. There was also a clear message that more education and oversight was needed to improve compliance.

The personal interests returns scheme was amended with the introduction of the Local Government Act 2020. In August 2021, we assessed compliance with the new requirement for councils to publish a summary of all personal interests returns.

We also reviewed the websites of all 79 councils and found that three councils did not have a summary published at all and a further 13 had not published the summary of the biannual personal interest returns of March 2021.

Mr Stefanovic said:

“Compliance needs to be improved through better oversight and enforcement with a view to raising the level of compliance and public trust in their local representatives.”

The report, 'Personal interests returns: Encouraging disclosure and increasing transparency', is available on our reports page.

Please be advised that the previous reference to Dandenong Council in the report (Personal interests summaries section) has been amended to include new information. Dandenong advised in late October – after this report was published – that the summary for its CEO and other nominated officers was publicly available on its website but this was not found in our original review.

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